Is Exam the sole factor causing stress among students in India?

Stress in Students
Representative Image.

Stress in Students

To mark the World Suicide Prevention Day observed on September 10 this year, the National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences (Nimhans) conducted a study on the growing number of suicides in India among school and college-going students. The study revealed that about 11 percent of college students and about 7 to 8 percent of high school students have attempted suicide. The survey comprised 1,500 school and college students.

In an earlier study, it was found that 20 percent of the children had subclinical depression (meaning they are almost depressed) and about 30 percent had mild to moderate depression. Here, about 800 students took part in the survey.

A couple of years ago, it was reported that depression and stress were taking a toll on the students in the premier Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs). An IIT Council meet was also held in Delhi to look at the rising number of suicides among the students.

Various incidents are a pointer to stress from exam and study 

In a strange incident, a student wrote his suicide note in his examination paper stating that he was unable to cope with the pressure of his studies. A girl studying for intermediate chopped off her hands by laying them under the wheels of a train. She later died due to excessive bleeding. Her reason was that  she had done badly in Maths and was scolded at home.

Such cases show the rising level of stress in students in India. What is causing this stress? Usually, if it is a student, we immediately relate it to study and exam pressure. But is it only exam pressure that is causing depression in students today.

There are some other reasons too

Let us explore to see if there are some other reasons apart from exams. Here are a few of them:

1. Incompatibility between mental and physical developmental changes: In a research paper – Stress Level and Coping Strategies of College Students – that was published in the Journal of Physical Education and Sports Management, the authors make an interesting point. They suggest that as the students undergo physical and mental development during their school and college period, some students may find their mental development being incompatible with their physical development, or for that matter mental development being incompatible with their social surroundings. Hence, they begin to suffer from problems of internal mismatch that come up due to inadequate adaptations.

The paper goes on to further add that these problems would then lead to psychological troubles in the students.

2. We are putting too much burden on them by multitasking that many are not able to cope up: The overall development of children today is way ahead of what it used to be decades ago.  Also, an important thing to note is that different children have different ways of reacting to situations. While some may take stress in their stride, others may feel burdened.

That is, a school student’s life is not just confined to studies. While school consumes most of their time, it is becoming a norm for them to take up a couple of extracurricular activities like painting, music, dance or any type of sports. What happens at the end of the day is that the child is juggling between going to school, taking part in all the extracurricular activities, studying and completing the homework, and of course watching TV or surfing the Net, throw in a little playtime, if possible.

Phew! Here, the focus is more on completing one activity and then moving onto the other. In the process, the joy of doing each activity is somewhere robbed and the children feel the pressure to complete each activity. When they wake up in the morning, their schedule is already laid out and they go through it mechanically throughout the day.

Is that why then that given some free time, they love to throw themselves on the sofa and watch TV or surf the Net – using them as an apt diversion tool?

3. Role of peers as stress-buster is unavailable today: Two years back, the Indian Institutes of Technology had got into a drive to understand the various stress-causing features in their students. One of the key issues that surfaced was students’ growing intimacy with computers. The children stay mainly confined to their computers, due to which interaction among students is diminishing. The troubles that earlier could have been solved through chatting with friends now stay within themselves, which then slowly grow into bigger problems.

4. Parents turning children as tools for realising their unfulfilled dreams: It is the dream of parents to see their child excel in everything. In the process, the parents begin to slowly put pressure on the children to aim higher each time – be it studies or any other activity. While this is good, the trouble begins when there is a mismatch in aspirations – the parents may want the child to perform in a certain manner while the child may find his or her calling in some other area. It is then that this competitive attitude becomes unhealthy.

In a recent interactive meeting with parents and students, Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani was clearly impressed by a girl who stole the show by saying that parents too should be counselled when it comes to students’ career decisions. She apparently was studying for medicine under family pressure, while she was actually interested in History.

Should we be doing the business of tackling stress or trying to prevent it?

Steps are being taken in the direction of stress prevention. Many institutes, colleges and schools are taking stress management seriously and have included it in their curricula. A few years ago, the Indian Institutes of Management had invited Kathak maestro Birju Maharaj to explain the role of music and dance as a stress-reliever. Birju Maharaj went on to add that music and dance can indeed help keep track of career goals in a highly competitive environment.

Way back in 2006, the CBSE had initiated programmes to tackle depression in children. They had tied up with the Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (VIMHANS) to prepare the curriculum. The focus was to concentrate on the mental health of a child, because that was the only way a child can be ensured of perfect overall growth.

While institutes focus on projects and projects, especially because that is what institutes are in practice seems to be meant for, families and parents can make invaluable contributions in terms of preventing the causating factors of stress from occurring and consuming their children. This is if at all we care for the mental and physical health of our children for a stable life for them ahead.

What every parent should do, first and last, is understanding the child. Then be its pillar of strength. And inculcate trust. Let the child be on its own. After all, it is all about your child excelling in life, rather than in a school or college!


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